Xi Jinping received a ceremonial state welcome of the highest order in Britain today amidst a public backlash against the UK government’s compliance to the Beijing leadership.
As Xi travelled along the Mall in a horse-drawn carriage with the Queen, past cheering Chinese students, media attention was focused on Tibet, Uyghur, Falun Gong and dissident Chinese protesters. There was also disappointment expressed in Parliament as the visit coincides with job losses in the UK steel sector, with cheap Chinese imports among factors being blamed.
On the day that China’s Party Secretary Xi addressed Parliament, there were ‘audible intakes of breath’ as Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow intervened in a debate on India that was taking place just before Xi’s arrival, to make a pointed reference to the difference between China’s record on human rights and India’s by saying: “And of course the Indian prime minister is the representative of a great democracy.”
Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said today: “The Mall in London today was a dazzling propaganda stage for an authoritarian Party state. Diplomacy and good manners do not oblige to honor autocrats in this way. It is of course not the first time that China, in its history, has used mercantile interests to enforce submission to its agenda. But Britain, even in the midst of austerity, can do better than co-operate in its own submission. The UK would serve its own interests better by building a strong relationship with China – demonstrating a diplomatic weight that can influence and encourage China’s positive rise on the world stage. It should be a relationship that takes into account strategic as well as commercial interests: it is not by abdicating the human rights and democracy agenda that the UK will be able to protect its interests.”
The International Campaign for Tibet was among a coalition of NGOs in the UK to support a ‘stateless lunch’ in Parliament yesterday (October 19) on the eve of Xi Jinping’s lunch at Buckingham Palace today. MP Fabian Hamilton (Lab, Leeds NE), who hosted the lunch, said: “It is in our interest as a country for David Cameron to publicly raise human rights as a priority with Xi Jinping, in the strongest possible terms. Engagement and trade links with China are important, but not at the expense of freedom and democracy.”
Tash Despa, a Tibetan who went undercover in Tibet for a Channel 4 documentary, gave a moving testimony, speaking in front of a portrait of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died in prison in July in the 13th year of a life sentence. He said: “Before his arrest in 2002, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche founded schools for nomad children, set up elderly people’s homes, worked with local officials to protect forests and was well-known for his efforts to preserve Tibetan culture. When the UK government meets Xi Jinping this week, they should insist that there should be no more deaths in prison of Tibetans like Tenzin DelekRinpoche, who was a shining example of someone who gave service to his community and cared so much for the lives of others.”
ICT President Matteo Mecacci was on a panel of expert speakers at a roundtable debating UK-China policy on October 19 at the University of Westminster in London hosted by Dr Dibyesh Anand, including Isabel Hilton, Ellen Bork, Dr Eva Pils and Corinna Francis-Barbara.
Xi Jinping will be hosted by the Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street tomorrow (October 21). The visit has dominated the headlines in the UK media this week with criticism of “the great British kowtow” dominating the storylines. Even those involved in doing business with China expressed concern: “If you act like a panting puppy, the object of your attention is going to think they have got you on a leash,” James McGregor, chairman of consultancy group APCO Worldwide’s Chinese operations, was cited as saying by the BBC today.